RealTime IT News
Does Google Have a Secret OS?
By Andy Patrizio
December 04, 2008

Net Applications caused a bit of a stir this week with a report that showed Microsoft's operating system share had dipped below 90 percent. This played very well where anti-Microsoft sentiment was strongest, not surprisingly.

Net Applications uses software sensors at 40,000 Web sites around the world to measure traffic and come up with its stats. These stats include operating system, browser, IP address, domain host, language, screen resolution, and a referring search engine, according to Vince Vizzaccaro, executive vice president of marketing and strategic alliances for Net Applications.

However, Net Applications noticed something unusual with stats from Google.com, which would represent Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) employees, not the public at large that use its search engine. Two-thirds of the visitors from Google.com did not hide what operating system they were running, which Net Applications recorded in its survey.

One-third, however, were unrecognized even though Net Applications' sensors can detect all major operating systems including most flavors of Unix and Linux. Even Microsoft's new Windows 7, which is deployed internally at Microsoft headquarters, would show up by its identifier string. But the Google operating systems were specifically blocked.

"We have never seen an OS stripped off the user agent string before," Vizzaccaro told InternetNews.com. "I believe you have to arrange to have that happen, it's not something we've seen before with a proxy server. All I can tell you is there's a good percentage of the people at Google showing up [at Web pages] with their OS hidden."

A proxy server shouldn't cause such a block because it would block everything, which Net Applications sees all the time. With the one-third obfuscated Google visitors, it was only the OS that was removed. Their browser, for example, was not hidden. And two-thirds of Google systems surfing the Web identified their OS, mostly Linux.

Internal deployment would make sense, as that's the best way to test an operating system or anything else under development. Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has Windows 7 deployed over certain parts of its Redmond campus, using its staff as testers by making them work with it daily. The company refers to this as "eating their own dogfood."

Google's secret OS?

So what's Google hiding? When asked, the company sent InternetNews.com a statement that it would not comment on rumor and speculation. But some Silicon Valley watchers think they know: the long-rumored software-as-a-service-oriented Google OS.

"I think they could be working on an application infrastructure, because an operating system really connotes the stuff that makes the hardware and software talk to each other, and they are not in that business," said Clay Ryder, president of The Sageza Group.

"But as an infrastructure for building network apps, I would think Google would be working on something like that," he continued. "They've been rolling out more and more freebie apps and I would think they would eventually want to make some money the old fashioned way. It would make a lot of sense that they would want to have a network app infrastructure that they could roll out most anywhere."

Next page: An expanded version of Android

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Such an OS would be an expanded version of the Android OS the company recently released for mobile phones, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst for The Enderle Group. "They were clear they were going to go down this direction, with a platform that largely lives off the cloud with Google apps," he told InternetNews.com. Look at it as the Android concept expanded to a PC."

Both felt Google would not take on Microsoft on the operating system level, because its goal was to make that level irrelevant. "I would never expect Google to get into a desktop OS space," said Ryder. "That just doesn't make sense. But for a network application infrastructure that is not dependent on the hardware but just the usage of a client, that would make more sense."

Enderle noted this would be the final piece after Google Apps, the Chrome browser and the Toolbar, which combined are the total user experience, all provided by Google. An underlying infrastructure similar to Android to run it all would be the logical conclusion.

"If you think about it, if you live off Google tools, the company that provides the experience into everything else would be Google, not Microsoft," he said. "It's an interesting strategy and I think it could work, but it would be premature to bring that to market because Chrome is not ready."